Sportsperson of the Year: David Hunt

Pepperdine men’s volleyball head coach David Hunt, left, speaks with Pepperdine redshirt senior David Wieczorek, while the two compete for Team USA.

David Hunt has been leery of calling himself the head coach of the Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball team throughout his 17 months on the job out of respect for his predecessor, coaching mentor and friend Marv Dunphy. 

With the calendar flipping to 2019 and Hunt entering his second season as the Waves coach, he said it still feels weird proclaiming the role his.

“I don’t think I ever have introduced myself as that,” he admitted.

Despite that, Hunt now helms a program that the renowned Dunphy led to championship after championship and a litany of wins before retiring in June 2017. Hunt, a member of Dunphy’s coaching staff for a decade, coached Pepperdine to a 15-8 record and an appearance in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs in his first season as top Wave. Additionally, he coached a team of Americans to a 3-2 record in the Men’s Pan-American Volleyball Cup in September.  

As the coach and his team prepare for their 2019 campaign, The Malibu Times has tapped Hunt as its 2018 Sportsperson of the Year. 

Malibu athletes excel across the board in 2018

Hunt wasn’t the lone athletic success story in Malibu in 2018. 

Malibu High senior running sensation Claudia Lane, a CIF cross country and track champion and Foot Locker Cross Country champ, finished seventh for Team USA in the Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge in Scotland. The Malibu High boys basketball and girls water polo teams had a winning season that ended in a first round appearances in the CIF playoffs. Gaia Hinds, a 2018 grad, won Tri-Valley League MVP at the end of the water polo season. 

The Sharks baseball team advanced to the CIF championship game. The Malibu High boys water polo team—coached by Hayden Goldberg, also the coach of the girls team—advanced several rounds in the CIF playoffs, and the Malibu High football team finished its season with a winning record and almost qualified for the playoffs. 

Teenage professional surfer Soleil Errico won the 2018 World Surf League Women’s World Longboard Championship in Taiwan, and Malibu High grad and Olympic swimmer Jordan Wilimovsky won the men’s 800-, 400-, 1500-meter freestyles at the USA Swimming Winter National Championships. Wilimovsky also won the U.S. Open Water National 10K title and two gold and one silver medal at the Pan Pacific Championships in Japan.

At Pepperdine, Waves men’s volleyball player Alex Harthaller was a standout player and one of the university’s valedictorians, and his teammate David Wieczorek, entering his last collegiate season, was the MPSF Player of the Year. Weiczorek was a member of the USA team that Hunt coached in the Pan-Am Cup. 

The Pepperdine beach volleyball team won its third straight West Coast Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championships as multiple Waves received All-American honors. Golfer Sahith Theegala earned All-American honors for the second straight year as he helped Pepperdine win the WCC golf title.

Pepperdine men’s water polo players Chris Dilworth and Balazs Kosa also gained All-American status in their sport. 

In the shadow of greatness

Hunt stepped in the shoes of a coaching legend and excelled. 

Hunt began on Dunphy’s coaching staff as a video coordinator in December 2007 and steadily moved up to associate head coach. Since getting the head coaching job, Hunt, in his 30s, has consistently called the hall of famer Dunphy his coaching idol. Dunphy is still a presence on Pepperdine’s campus and stops by Waves practices. This leads to the younger coach often picking the older coach’s brain. 

“I go over and ask, ‘What do you see?’” Hunt said. Even though Dunphy’s longtime summer volleyball camp was renamed after Hunt this year, Hunt still wanted Dunphy, thanks to his coaching acumen, to continue drilling and teaching the camp’s attendees.

The retired coach said he and Hunt view volleyball play in a similar way.

“I knew early on he got it,” Dunphy said. “I saw the work effort was there—that’s the first thing I noticed—and then sometimes people work long but he worked long and well.”

Hunt said the 2017 season featured a lot of growth for himself and his coaching staff that is continuing.

“Right after practice, we sit down as a staff and ask, ‘What could we have done better? What cold the players have done better?” he said. “I think daily we are tweaking things in our approach and conversations we are having with athletes.” 

The coach said self-reflection is something he applies to himself as an individual as well in hopes it propels him forward. 

“I have a season under my belt so there is a little bit of a frame of reference to go fall back on,” he said.

Hunt’s record on the court

Pepperdine’s 2017 season started with a win, then two losses, then a string of wins, another defeat, and then five straight victories. It continued until the Waves, ranked fifth nationally, were upset by USC in the first round of the postseason. 

Hunt, the coach of several different USA Volleyball teams over the years, coached the Pan-Am Cup group before Pepperdine started preparing for the coming season. He said he only participates in national team or other volleyball gigs if it benefits Waves volleyball or doesn’t hurt the college program.

Dunphy said there is a reason USA Volleyball asks Hunt spend some time working in its ranks throughout the years

“He is one of the very best young coaches in our sport,” he said. “We are really lucky that he’s here.”

Pepperdine was projected to finish third this season in the ultracompetitive MPSF conference behind UCLA and BYU by a coach’s poll. Pepperdine has a roster full of seniors led by the two-time All-American hitter Wieczorek and all-conference selections Michael Wexter (OH/Opp), Max Chamberlain (middle), and Robert Mullahey (setter).

Hunt said Pepperdine University does a great job of providing the volleyball program the support it needs to be a national championship contender, but he doesn’t preach expectations to the squad. 

“I think every year there is this idea, especially as young guys come into the program, ‘Well, Pepperdine has had a great history of volleyball and obviously that is going to continue,’” Hunt said. “We ‘d love for that to continue but that is based on hard work; that is based on the efforts of a lot of people that have come through here and it just doesn’t get passed along as you put on a jersey.”

Pepperdine’s season starts with a Dec. 30 match against a talented Princeton team. Pepperdine downed the Tigers, 3-0, last February. The out-of-conference matches continue for the Waves with a couple of matchups against UC Santa Barbara, and dates with UC San Diego, Loyola-Chicago, Lewis, UC Irvine and CSUN filling out January. 

Hunt said Pepperdine is playing a difficult early season schedule against non-MPSF teams in order to prep for a run in the NCAA tournament in the spring.

“At the end of the season, it’s hard matches, not easy matches, so we are doing that already off the bat,” he said. “Our goal is to be playing our best volleyball at the end of the season.” 

The coach added that he doesn’t see ceiling for the Waves.

“We have some guys that are unproven, but are hungry to get out there and compete,” Hunt said. “Especially with it being a senior laden team they are hungry to get out there. They want to make the most of their time and know they gave it their all.”